Abstract

Understanding the thermal evolution of the Alleghanian orogen in the southernmost Appalachians (southeastern United States) is key to understanding the orogenic collapse and extensional tectonics that led to the breakup of Pangea. Cooling-age contours derived from 40Ar/39Ar ages of hornblende, muscovite, and biotite from granitic plutons and their country rocks show a regional pattern of younging toward the southeast. This cooling-age gradient, along with the distribution of normal faults, discontinuities in metamorphic grade, and rifting of the South Georgia basin suggest that the southernmost Appalachian crystalline rocks between the Brevard fault and the Coastal Plain unconformity were exhumed as the lower plate of an extensional detachment fault system. The Suwannee and Charleston terranes likely preserve part of the upper plate. These features represent the postorogenic collapse of the southernmost Appalachians probably along an extensive detachment fault system in the Permian–Middle Triassic. This episode of extension may have played a crucial role in thinning the continental crust to its current thickness and likely was the first stage of extension that eventually led to the breakup of Pangea and formation of the Atlantic Ocean.

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